The Fortunes of Aristotle's Politics in the Italian and French Renaissance


According to contemporary theorists, ‘civil society’ is something that stands apart from ‘the state’. Some seem to celebrate civil society as an autonomous sphere of action to bridle and correct the state and to provide what its opponent, the state, cannot: moral virtue and civility. Others praise civil society as a complement to the state, offering possibilities of civic engagement and participation. In both views, civil society is seen as detached from, in many cases indeed as opposed to, formal, institutional and bureaucratic politics. There is a history to this way of seeing things and the study of historical alternatives may enrich our current views.

Research stream one studies an important historical alternative. It goes back to Aristotle and the revival of the engagement with his work during one of the most innovative periods of European history, the Renaissance. It argues that how to live well and together were two vital questions in debates that initiated a shared political turn in the rival constitutional settings of Italian city-republics and the French monarchy. This turn revived the interest in and practical engagement with Aristotle’s Politics first, in the Greek editio princeps of Aldo Manuzio (1495-1498) and Pietro Vettori’s new Greek edition printed in Florence and Paris in 1552 and 1556 respectively; secondly, in the Latin versions and interpretations of Aristotle’s Politics prepared by Italian and French scholars and finally, in a series of vernacular translations and commentaries.

More specifically, this research stream explores how attempts to negotiate consensus concerning the foundations of political association and the character of political life went hand in hand with debates about the new place of politics vis-à-vis theology and Christian ethics as a defining modus operandi of human life in general and life in society more particularly. In all this, the thesis explores Renaissance idea(l)s of the good life, given the complexity of man as a moral, social and political being, and studies the rise of politics, first, as the art of living, well and together, second, as the practice of administering the commonwealth, and third, as the science of governing that enables civil life. This alternative historical trajectory includes the works of scholars such as Leonardo Bruni (c.1370-1444), Giovanni Crisostomo Javelli (c.1470-c.1538), Antonio Brucioli (c. 1498-1566), Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (c.1460-1536), Jacques-Louis Strebée (1481-1550) and Louis Le Roy (c.1510-1577).